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kermit

Walkable Neighborhoods -- How to Make More

26 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

So its been about 10 years since the Blue Line opened and Charlotte has spent a significant amount of energy talking about how to make the city more walkable and less car dependent. As I think about the walkable portions of Charlotte (Dilworth, Southend, PM, Wesley Heights (needs a grocery store), NoDa, etc.) all of these places were built before cars and they have merely been updated to accommodate modern needs.

Try as I might I can't think of a single post-war neighborhood in Charlotte that has been made more walkable. Is there any neighborhood outside of the inner ring where walking to the store, school or transit is possible for more than a token few? The Blue Line created little or no change in the neighborhoods south of New Bern. Birkdale-like places seem much more like malls than neighborhoods to me and feel as isolated as a mall -- but I don't spend much time there so correct me if I am wrong. Brightwalk comes to mind as one of the best examples but AFAIK it lacks retail and is basically cutoff from any other neighborhoods by Statesville Ave and 77. LoSo is another place where people now want to walk, but it lacks the necessary infrastructure (sidewalks and transit access). We have even failed at connecting neighborhoods by means other than the car (e.g. crossing from Dilworth to Southend on bike or foot is still kinda hairy).

So my question is what is missing from the development process? Is it zoning (e.g. lot size, sidewalk width, land use mix)? Transit? Traffic engineering (too many car sewers)? A combination of all or something else entirely?

Ten years of experience suggests that we have not figured out how to make new walkable burbs -- is it time to give up?  Would giving up be a bad thing?

EDIT: am I being too pessimistic? Does new multi-family in places like Park Road / Selwyn make new walkability available to some? Please tell me I have overlooked some significant positive change somewhere.

Edited by kermit
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35 minutes ago, kermit said:

So its been about 10 years since the Blue Line opened and Charlotte has spent a significant amount of energy talking about how to make the city more walkable and less car dependent. As I think about the walkable portions of Charlotte (Dilworth, Southend, PM, Wesley Heights (needs a grocery store), NoDa, etc.) all of these places were built before cars and they have just been updated to accommodate modern needs.

Try as I might I can't think of a single post-war neighborhood in Charlotte that has been made more walkable. Is there any neighborhood outside of the inner ring where walking to the store, school or transit is possible for more than a token few? The Blue Line created little or no change in the neighborhoods south of New Bern. Brightwalk comes to mind as one of the best examples but AFAIK it lacks retail and is basically cutoff from any other neighborhoods by Statesville Ave and 77. LoSo is another place where people now want to walk, but it lacks the necessary infrastructure (sidewalks and transit access). I don't spend much time in Birkdale-like places so they seem much more like malls than neighborhoods to me, correct me if I am wrong. We have even failed at connecting neighborhoods by means other than the car (e.g. crossing from Dilworth to Southend on bike or foot is still kinda hairy).

So my question is what is missing from the development process? Is it zoning (e.g. lot size, sidewalk width, land use mix)? Transit? Traffic engineering (too many car sewers)? or something else entirely?

Ten years of experience suggests that we have not figured out how to make new walkable burbs -- is it time to give up?  Would giving up be a bad thing?

would love for @Spartan to weigh in on this. This is very up his alley. 

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Sedgefield....this is a post-war neighborhood, and is a definitive success based on your criteria.

The city has been adding sidewalks and bike lanes.  The neighborhood is getting a new grocery stores, and is walkable to transit.  Neighborhood parents are talking about sending their kids to the neighborhood school after the Dilworth pairing.

 

Oakhurst will likely be the next candidate.  Neighborhood successfully got neighborhood school turned into a STEAM magnet.  Very busy with neighbors walking, and there is a community garden.  Working on a streetscape plan that will include bike-lanes on Monroe Rd....CommonMarket is already promoting group rides from there.....a new grocery at Chippendale would really solidify that one.

Madison Park is close, but the city will have to resolve Park Rd before I'd count it as a success.

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To this I have to once again go with Strong Towns and say the long-term solution to this involves two primary things: embracing micro-density (accessory dwellings, converted garages, multi-unit-plexes where appropriate), and once again embracing The Corner Store (not being afraid of commercial near subdivisions).

These two things will of course require policy/zoning changes, and implementing less car-centric road designs in suburban areas (starting with the less affluent areas since they will not ardently fight against it ^_^ )

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There are lots of things missing from "the development process".  I guess I would ask what you mean by "the development process".  There is new development and infill/repair.  The solution and policies in "the development process" that help new development are probably easier than the infill/repair solutions.  I have thought about this as it applies to walkable schools, but never for a walkable neighborhood....  I think about the walk zone of a place.  quarter, half and full mile.  If a retail area were to be truly supported by the walking of patrons, how many people would have to live within that walk zone?  What does that density look like and what does the infrastructure look like in that neighborhood?  A quarter mile walk zone is 125 acres.  a half 500. a mile 2000 acres.  So lets pull from the extremes.  Large 1 mile radius:  2000 acres - 30% for circulation or gives you 1200 developable acres.  google tells me that in new york it takes 10,000 people to support a 15,000sf walkable grocery store... so, lets use 10K people.  Using these numbers, a walkable retail district would need 2000 acres zoned R-8 with gridded streets.  That does not exist in Charlotte and a new neighborhood would have to be mighty bold to go with 2000acres @r8.

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Posted (edited)

a truly .25 mile walk zone would have to be zoned R133

Edited by archiham04

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I guess by "development process" I meant the market-driven plus regulatory aspects of building new (and rehabing old) residential and commercial space (developers, financiers, mortgage underwriters, building code dudes (?), transit planners, land use planners, taxpayers / local politicians and existing zoning). It seems like this "development process" (whatever it is) has failed to either create new walkable neighborhoods from scratch or make any existing post-war neighborhoods more walkable (with the possible exception of Sedgefiled -- but I don't think much has changed in Sedgefield other than new commercial development at its western edge).

I think your point about zoning is on target. But I wonder if developers would really build R133 even if the county permitted it. I also wonder what would happen if the non-historic district parts of Dilworth or Madison Park or Steel Creek (as examples) were rezoned for R133 -- I don't think the incentives are there to encourage people to increase density.

In a pessimistic mood today, but I just don't see any scenario where the "development process" (whatever it is) can be modified to create new walkable neighborhoods in the US. I really do hope I am wrong and that you guys could show me the way.

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Well, and I don't know if this helps your mood, but if you think PM is a walkable neighborhood, great. yes it is walkable, but it is not supported by only those who walk from their homes.  I don't think Charlotte has ANY of those neighborhoods.  We have what I call the "local tourist" impact.  Most of those drive in... hopefully they are ubering or taxi-ing these days... those folks park and walk.. but they still park somewhere.

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10 minutes ago, archiham04 said:

Well, and I don't know if this helps your mood, but if you think PM is a walkable neighborhood, great. yes it is walkable, but it is not supported by only those who walk from their homes.  I don't think Charlotte has ANY of those neighborhoods.  We have what I call the "local tourist" impact.  Most of those drive in... hopefully they are ubering or taxi-ing these days... those folks park and walk.. but they still park somewhere.

I don't know if it matters much to me where the walking people come from. I think it might only matter than people are walking at all (for more than the distance between their parked car and their destination). While many visitors arrive by car, at least those cars are unobtrusive enough to not strangle walking (like parked cars do in Southpark for instance)

I would call PM walkable (you can live there and walk to a grocery store, entertainment, parks and transit), but it has pre-war bones. I am just wondering why we don't see more examples of PM being replicated in modern construction or redevelopment. 

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2 such communities are being developed in Charlotte though many on this board decry their architecture style. One is Waverly which has single family homes, townhomes and apartments are walking distance to the Whole Foods anchor, the shops, the restaurants, drug store, office buildings etc. Crescent is building apartments right outside of Waverly but connecting into their sidewalk network. Across the street the Rea Farms Village will be the same. This time Harris Teeter as the grocery anchor, Lifetime Fitness center, a school by CMS, apartments over shops, office buildings and again single family homes and townhomes by CalAtlantic. 

Waverly site plan http://www.waverlyclt.com/interactive-siteplan/   and Rea Farms Village site plan http://www.reafarmsvillage.com/site-plan/

Baxter and Birkdale Village have elements of this but no grocery store anchors. Will plenty of people drive into both of these developments of course, but there is a walkable neighborhood option with a mix of housing types and price points. Plaza Midwood in my mind is the most walkable neighborhood if a grocery store is important to this designation but Dilworth does have the East Blvd Teeter.   The River District will be a Waverly Rea Farms hybrid just much larger and with a walkable town center. NoDa needs a grocery store and hopefully they will get one soon. Uptown of course is very walkable neighborhood as long you don't mind the density. With 2 grocery stores and hopefully a 3rd Publix uptown will be very walkable if that is the type of neighborhood you want. 

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^ I regret reducing walkability to a single metric like grocery stores. It might be better to think of it as places where people want to walk (and then they actually do walk there).

I do appreciate the examples. The style of a place isn't really relevant (in my head), it's only a matter of do people actually walk there. This is a standard that I think Birkdale fails, but I admit to not spending enough time there to really know.

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I think the best recent example of city policies, and infrastructure trying to shape an area to make it walkable without having a major landowner or development anchor to drive it is Prosperity Church Rd. area.  I think it is highly under recognized on this forum.

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3 hours ago, archiham04 said:

I think the best recent example of city policies, and infrastructure trying to shape an area to make it walkable without having a major landowner or development anchor to drive it is Prosperity Church Rd. area.  I think it is highly under recognized on this forum.

at 485? I haven't been there so I gotta ask what makes it walkable. A glance at google sat view doesn't provide many clues -- it looks like a standard strip center backing up on some multi family. I could imagine apartment dwellers walking to the teeter, but I can't really see any reasons for other walking trips. What am I missing from my very limited perspective? 

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It's probably not walkable. But it is the best example I can think of of planners putting infrastructure and zoning into place to see what the market would bring


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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Posted (edited)

^Thanks for that, I'll be sure to check it out when I get back to town. (I used to be a regular at Due Amiche but that was long before 485)

well how about this...

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/development/article150040482.html

So my next question would be, does zoning do anything to encourage these neighborhoods to connect to their neighbors? The goal would be to provide a network of walkability rather than just islands.

Edited by kermit
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not zoning really.  Subdivision requirements prohibit culs de sac, and many developments end up with stubbed roads that are supposed to connect to future.  problem is that they usually only require one or two roads connect, not each one...  also there are many examples like this of new abutting old that will likley never connect.

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18 hours ago, archiham04 said:

not zoning really.  Subdivision requirements prohibit culs de sac, and many developments end up with stubbed roads that are supposed to connect to future.  problem is that they usually only require one or two roads connect, not each one...  also there are many examples like this of new abutting old that will likley never connect.

ah, so part of the puzzle here. If there were requirements that new subdivisions were linked by paths (for bikes and peds)  in addition the the road connections already required that would go a long way to creating walkable areas rather than islands.

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I have often thought that the way to compel these neighborhoods to connect their subdivisions may be the school bus issue.  Inner ring neighborhoods hardly notice school coming back into session.  outer ring neighborhoods are crushed by their obtrusive routes.  if school busses didn't need to collect from the highways, or even travel the highways... they wouldn't clog them up.

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This is an interesting topic. I've been marinating on this trying to figure out how to reply, since it's an issue I care about quite a bit.

What makes a place walkable? I think people have varying perspectives, but there are many commonalities. Notably, I think to many realtors and suburbanites, it means sidewalks. If you have a place you can technically walk, that makes it walkable, right? So places like Brightwalk or the "Ardrey" subdivision (off of Wade Ardrey Rd) are generally thought of as walkable new neighborhoods by realtors. My question to you all is this: do those feel walkable to you?

When you think about whether or not a place is walkable - just go to that neighborhood ask yourself "What can I walk to?" -- this means destinations that are within walking distance (generally a 5-10 minute walk) AND with the needed infrastructure to get there*. So by that measure, much of Charlotte is not particularly walkable. I think WalkScore does a pretty good job of defining Charlotte's walkable neighborhoods at a broad level, but even it isn't perfect. As a whole, I think Fourth Ward and Third Ward are the only neighborhoods that are actually walkable in every sense of the word (for Charlotte). Places like Plaza Midwood and Dilworth have all of the components of walkability except actual density.

Planners, architects, urban designers, SOME developers, and UrbanPlaneteers are well versed on what actually makes a place walkable. It's combination of (at least) moderate density, a mixture of residential and commercial land uses, and a good, dense transportation network. Generally, you can access the commercial area with a 5-10 minute walk, and generally you have lots of active ground floor uses and and wide sidewalks. The ground floor is the make-or-break part of walkability. Having a lot of density doesn't mean anything if it's not a pleasant, well-designed walking environment.

In terms of the "transformation" discussion - 10 years is a rather long time, but in the scale of the evolution of a city it isn't. It takes larger scale developments/neighborhoods 10-20 years just to reach full build-out (think Ballantyne, Baxter, Birkdale)... and that's when most of the land is undeveloped and controlled by a single developer. The best example of transition in Charlotte, IMO, is Third Ward. It has gone from a place that was marginally walkable and barely habitable to a true neighborhood that rivals Fourth Ward in terms of walkability.

South End is the obvious place that you'd want to look to see it magically transformed into a walkable environment. IMO, it has indeed come a long way over the past 10 years, but it still has a long way to go. I wouldn't describe it as walkable in an urban sense, but I WOULD say that it's increasingly walkable. The biggest challenge is that development happens at the will of the market, so the infrastructure improvements are inconsistent. Redevelopment isn't as clean as greenfield development due to the challenge of land acquisition. So, given that the piecemeal development process is inevitable, the biggest challenge to me is establishing urban design rules that will create the type of good walkability that will last for generations. It's not completely hopeless, and there actually are some good examples out there. I think that as the density comes, there iwll be market pressures to convert those gyms and leasing offices into income-generating businesses similar to what you're seeing in uptown. 

(* In some situations and land use contexts, you don't need sidewalks to be walkable)

 

On 5/11/2017 at 11:06 AM, archiham04 said:

a truly .25 mile walk zone would have to be zoned R133

Nah, but it would have to be much more consistently dense than anything we have in Charlotte. Generally, 3-5 floors at "townhome" density will achieve that.

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18 hours ago, Spartan said:

... this means destinations that are within walking distance (generally a 5-10 minute walk) AND with the needed infrastructure to get there*.

Just an opinion and worth as much, but I don't really agree with this, reads like the application of the same sedentary/lazy argument that we are rejecting elsewhere in decrying the current state of the country (or elements/regions within it).  Expecting some or most "services" to be 5-10 minutes away seems like the same suburban mentality that is a problem.  If groceries/shopping, its understandable, carrying things farther than this is inconvenient but shopping used to be for minor daily perishables and not a "trip", and something people dealt with, even in older more "walkable" cities.

Not really familiar with the criteria WalkScore uses but I don't agree with Charlotte's low ranking based on personal experience of it and more than a few other places it also rates.  I would argue it comes down to infrastructure as you've noted, and safety.

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22 minutes ago, nowensone said:

Just an opinion and worth as much, but I don't really agree with this, reads like the application of the same sedentary/lazy argument that we are rejecting elsewhere in decrying the current state of the country (or elements/regions within it).  Expecting some or most "services" to be 5-10 minutes away seems like the same suburban mentality that is a problem.  If groceries/shopping, its understandable, carrying things farther than this is inconvenient but shopping used to be for minor daily perishables and not a "trip", and something people dealt with, even in older more "walkable" cities.

Not really familiar with the criteria WalkScore uses but I don't agree with Charlotte's low ranking based on personal experience of it and more than a few other places it also rates.  I would argue it comes down to infrastructure as you've noted, and safety.

I don't follow your first sentence. Why is having destinations within a 5-10 minute walk lazy? I think it's worth noting that there isn't and shouldn't be an expectation that ALL services should be within this distance, but enough of them to where you don't need to think about owning a car to exist.

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^ The expectation that services be within that radius (5-10 minutes) or a place isn't "walkable".

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Wherever the clustering of new multi-family is going up in Charlotte, there's market demand for walkable living.

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